Former B'nai B'rith International President Tommy Baer of Richmond, Virginia wrote this column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. To read more first-person accounts of Kristallnacht experiences, including Tommy Baer’s story, click this link.
Hannah Arendt called it the banality of evil. Author Martin Gilbert called it the collapse of morality, “an indication of what happens when a society falls victim to its baser instincts.” The name given to it was “Kristallnacht,” the Night of Broken Glass.
Today marks the 80th anniversary of the 24-hour rampage in 1938 Germany and Austria which some say was the beginning of the Holocaust. There was on that night, upon the direct orders of the Third Reich, a violent and systematic attack upon Jews and Jewish institutions perpetrated by German security forces, joined by a frenzied populace given free rein to terrorize and destroy, without interference by police or firefighters. On that night the German nation fell victim to its baser instincts.
Hundreds of synagogues were set ablaze and destroyed, Torah scrolls torn to pieces, prayer books desecrated. Thousands of Jewish shops, homes, hospitals, and schools were smashed and looted. Nearly 100 Jews were killed and 30,000 Jewish men, including my mother’s father, were arrested and sent to concentration camps, where they were brutalized.
On that night my mother heard the sounds of shattering glass from the window of her hospital room in Berlin where she was being treated for a serious breast infection. I was 3 months old.
The events of that night and the next day shattered not only glass, but the hopes of European Jews who believed that they would survive the tyrannical Nazi regime and its diabolical scheme to create a pure Aryan race. It was made clear beyond all doubt that the objective of the Nazis was to rid Germany and Europe of the Jewish people, thus eradicating the 1,000-year history of Jewish life and culture in Germany.
The genocide had begun. Never had mankind seen such evil on so grand a scale. The lives, hopes, aspirations, dreams, and contributions of 6 million Jews (1,500,000 children), one-third of world Jewry, were obliterated. Numbers so large and vast that they are difficult for the mind to process. Yet they must be processed if there is any hope that such madness will never again be allowed to occur.
Among Jews, and others, the question is often asked: Could it happen here? I always answered in the negative, not in this country. Our institutions are too strong, our law too settled, our sense of decency too great. While I remain optimistic, I am no longer so sanguine about our immunity from the exercise of our baser instincts.
A recent poll of millennials disclosed that 66 percent had never heard of Auschwitz. It is troubling that this place, this Nazi death camp where more than 1 million Jews were murdered, this hell on earth, could not be identified by so many of those upon whom the future of our nation depends.
Today’s expressions of intolerance and repression of free speech and assembly in public forums, on many college campuses, and in other venues is a worrisome development.
The alarming rise of anti-Semitism in our country, along with movements that deligitimize, not merely criticize, the State of Israel, is a cause of increasing concern.
Holocaust denial, a form of anti-Semitism and hate speech, is cause for anxiety.
The lingering specter of neo-Nazi mobs in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us,” evoking the Third Reich, and the most recent horrific mass murder of Jews by a crazed anti-Semite at a synagogue service in Pittsburgh while screaming “All Jews must die,” shock the conscience and remind Jews of a former time, causing apprehension and foreboding. We should have learned long ago that words and actions have consequences.
All of these, individually and in the aggregate, pose a clear and present danger to those precepts enshrined in our Constitution and regarded by most as inalienable.
But perhaps most of all, it is complacency that frightens me. If we cannot or will not identify evil and the purveyors of hatred in order to prevent their insidious spread to toxic levels, we shall be overcome and consumed by it. Though I am comforted by the posthumous message of Sen. John McCain, who reminded us that “We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil,” we have become a nation vulnerable to excesses — in our political discourse, in our civility to one another, and in the breakdown of values we once cherished. The resistance of these negative impulses will require a strong America, one in which our leadership must speak out with moral clarity.
So, Kristallnacht must be remembered to prevent the savage beast in man from prevailing. Not here, not anywhere. Into that abyss we must not descend. Memory allows us to assess our history and ourselves, to ensure that we learn its lessons, so that we do not succumb to our baser instincts.
The words from a memorial plaque to the murdered Jewish children at the former concentration camp at Neuengamme, Germany, come to mind. They read: “When you stand here, be silent. When you leave here, be not silent.”
So let us remember; for if hatred prevails, we are all at risk.
To read the original story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, click this link.
With its embrace this week of a strongman in the African country of Chad and its promise to seek more friends in the Arab world, Israel is setting out on a new geopolitical course that is at once thrilling and treacherous — thrilling because of the prospect of an embattled Jewish state gaining new friends around the globe, and treacherous for the murky moral message it sends about the political friends Israel will now be keeping.
During a press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of his surprise visit last month to Oman, said there are “great changes that are taking place in the Arab world in its relations with Israel,” and promised: “There will be more such visits in Arab countries very soon.”
Israeli media reported that efforts are underway to normalize relations with the Muslim-majority countries of Sudan, Mali and Niger. And officials in Jerusalem are quoted as saying Netanyahu is about to visit another Persian Gulf nation: Bahrain.
But some argue that Israel is making a mistake in its outreach to some Arab nations (notably Saudi Arabia after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was linked to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi), to Chad and to other African nations with questionable human rights records, as well as to some European nations that have seen the rise of populist, right-wing and far-right parties in reaction to the influx of migrants and refugees. Many of these countries have responded by advancing anti-Islamic policies and rhetoric, causing some to question whether new anti-Semitic laws are on the horizon.
“If a party is intrinsically racist, bigoted against large parts of society and intolerant of minorities, if Jews are not the target now, they will be in the near future,” warned Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, the primary association of Orthodox European rabbis.
Speaking two weeks ago to Israeli lawmakers, Rabbi Goldschmidt insisted that Israel should not engage with political parties if they endorse racist rhetoric and policies.
“It is not worth short-term endorsement or for Israel to receive political support, only to put the Jewish community at risk,” he insisted.
Although Israel officially boycotts Austria’s Freedom Party due to its Nazi past and xenophobic policies, the party is now part of the country’s governing coalition and has in recent years adopted strong pro-Israel positions.
Israel, said David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “is faced with a balancing act on a high wire. It has to find the right equilibrium between its interests and its values. It doesn’t have too many friends and therefore beggars can’t be choosy.
“When it comes to outreach to Asia and Africa, there is only an upside for Israel,” he said. “It is also driven by Israel’s desire not to be too dependent on its largest trading partner, the European Union.”
Regarding Israel’s outreach to Arab countries, Makovsky said it is “operating in a split screen reality where there is what goes on above the table and below the table. Below the table there are commonalities among Arab states and Israel to thwart Iran’s regional hegemonic aspirations and a belief that Israel’s technological edge could help these countries. But here, too, there is a kind of glass ceiling in terms of what is done publicly. There have been some cracks in that ceiling, like the visit to Oman and talk of relations with Bahrain, but it is too soon to know if they could be expanded and how the killing of Khashoggi could impact the aspirations of Israel for more above-the-table relations … that the Palestinians fear would only come at their expense.”
On the other hand, Hady Amr, a visiting senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who served as U.S. deputy special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from 2014-2017, said he believes “the best thing for the Jewish people is that the Jewish state build relationships with good people around the world. Building rapport with despots in Africa and the Middle East or with the far-right in Europe is not in the long-term interests of the Jewish people or the State of Israel.”
But Israel has been “fighting for its existence for 70 years, fighting isolation imposed by Muslim countries, and it is absolutely right for Israel to be seeking the widest possible network of relationships,” insisted Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Normal countries have diplomatic relations and their heads of government visit back and forth. What Israel is doing with eastern European and African countries is having normal relationships.”
He added, “I think people take it too far when they say Israel should not have warm relationships with right-wing parties in power. But Israel has to be careful that no one uses their relationship with Israel to defend itself against accusations of anti-Semitism that are actually warranted.”
Amr argued, however, that despite Israel’s “long-held desire to be welcomed and accepted, particularly by Arab-majority countries, building rapport with authoritarian leaders who are deeply unpopular in their own country will build antipathy for the Jewish nation by the peoples of those nations when they are eventually free. … I think you have to ask the Jewish communities in Europe about this and if they are uncomfortable with the prime minister of Israel reaching out to the far-right, maybe they ought to be listened to.”
Oskar Deutsch, the president of the Jewish community of Vienna, had joined with Rabbi Goldschmidt in asking Israel to shun the Freedom Party and its officers. The party’s current leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, now Austria’s vice chancellor, visited Israel earlier this year at the invitation of Netanyahu’s Likud Party and vowed that his party would be “an essential partner in Europe’s fight against anti-Semitism.”
Netanyahu faced criticism this year after he praised Poland for eliminating criminal — but maintaining civil — penalties for those who violate a new law making it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in the Holocaust.
Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president and CEO of B’nai B’rith International, said that both his organization and Israel called out Hungary and Poland for Holocaust revisionism.
“You use the platform you have to raise issues where you disagree,” he said.
Netanyahu had a “difficult choice,” observed Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University. “He is aware of anti-Semitism in Poland and Hungary and the far-right in Austria, but the government needs to be realistic and Netanyahu has made the decision that it is important to get the broadest support even though some of the regimes have a history of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish practices. It is a carefully weighed decision and implemented systematically.
“Critics are being asked, ‘What do you have as an alternative? What can you bring to the table to stop the condemnations of Israel at the United Nations and the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement? That is part of the dilemma Israel has. It is aware that these are uncomfortable partners and allies. A rabbi in Europe and Jewish community leaders who have to live with anti-Semitism have a different constituency.”
Although there were many who were uncomfortable with Netanyahu calling Hungary’s authoritarian ruler Viktor Orban to congratulate him after his election in April despite what observers described as its anti-Semitic tone, Aaron David Miller pointed out that the U.S. has relations with such countries as Russia, China and North Korea, none of which are free and open societies.
“Why should Israel be any different?” asked Miller, a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “A country like Israel – you take your friends where you can get them. … There may well be a cost with respect to Israel’s image and its self-identification as a state that looks at itself in a way that reflects tolerance, pluralism and human rights.”
Simply establishing diplomatic relations “does not signal approval – not by Israel nor any of the other countries in the world that have relations with many of the world’s worst regimes,” pointed out Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “I do believe there has to be a moral component and Israel has to consider what message it sends when it establishes diplomatic relations.”
Mariaschin noted that in the mid-’90s, several Arab and Muslim countries had a presence in Israel, including Oman, Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania.
“Now, 25 years later, we are seeing a renewal of some of those ties in a much more open way,” he said. “There is no question that Iran and the challenge it presents has moved the relationships forward.”
African nations are seeking to establish diplomatic relations with Israel because of their interest in Israeli technology to obtain clean water and learn agricultural skills, noted Sharon Nazarian, senior vice president of international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League.
“It’s a door opener for Israel and it makes perfect sense to establish those ties,” she said, adding that Israel’s diplomatic outreach in Europe is designed to counter the criticisms against it from the United Nations and the European Parliament.
Read the original version of this story at The New York Jewish Week here.
Just back from New York City, where he was elected to serve at the helm of B’nai B’rith, Charles O. Kaufman eagerly chats about the future of the 175-year-old organization and why if there is to be peace in the Middle East “the Palestinians need to do more with less.”
His road to the presidency began under the hot, dry Texan sun where he spent many a boyhood summer searching for fossils and arrowheads in tiny Texas villages while his parents attended B’nai B’rith events. He often accompanied his father to meetings. There was never a time when B’nai B’rith wasn’t part of his life.
Now, as the newly elected president of B’nai B’rith International, the Dallas native relishes the chance to keep the world’s oldest Jewish humanitarian organization relevant and fresh. After all, he says, there are no points for being the oldest.
“To stay successful you have to be nimble and you have to adapt to the times,” says an upbeat Kaufman in a telephone interview from his current hometown of Austin, Texas.
In Texas he testified at the state legislature on behalf of anti-BDS legislation, which overwhelmingly passed both houses and was signed into law. During that period Kaufman said he was dismayed, but not surprised, that opposition to the legislation primarily included Jewish Voice for Peace and other progressive Jewish groups.
“It shows some of the challenges we have facing us and it’s disconcerting to see this disconnect over support for Israel,” he said.
Aside from working with organizations such as Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel, AIPAC and the Levi Hospital of Hot Springs, Arkansas, Kaufman has held a variety of posts within B’nai B’rith.
Before assuming the presidency, Kaufman served as the chairman of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy and as a senior vice president. In fact, he’s been a leader in the organization since 1980.
He’s represented the organization at the United Nations in New York, at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and at UNESCO in Paris. He felt strongly about his work in these positions, even as many of peers considered it a waste of time.
“When I was doing that work I had a lot of people ask me, ‘Why do you waste your time?’ I used to see it that way, too. Then I came to realize that if we were not there it would be even worse,” he said.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
B’nai B’rith is 175 years old. What is the key to staying relevant while adhering to the organization’s traditions?
You have to be innovative. We started out working with widows and orphans in 1843. Then in the late 1800s and early 1900s when Jews were scrambling from pogroms and violence in Europe we were there. So you continue to innovate and add programs to what you’re already doing.
More specifically we are creating several new things. Anti-Semitism is growing rapidly, here and in Europe. We’re creating an anti-Semitism action group. We’re going to be more vocal, more proactive in answering anti-Semitism. We have eyes and ears throughout the country and so we are uniquely set up to handle this.
We’re also creating a mental health action group. It will dovetail nicely with our senior housing; seniors are a big deal to us but this will fill a very important niche that is not unique for seniors. We want to create awareness about everything from anxiety to Alzheimer’s.
We’re also creating B’nai B’rith Barristers. It will allow for international networking in a multinational, global world. It will also allow professionals to mentor young Jewish attorneys coming up in the system.
In 1992 you initiated and promoted a petition that generated more than 10,000 signatures calling for the freedom of Syrian Jews under the rule of Hafez Assad. You also worked through its office at the United Nations and with other groups to secure the emigration of thousands of Syrian Jews. In the United States the Trump administration has slashed the number of refugees it will accept and European countries are also struggling with the refugee crisis. Talk about the challenges facing B’nai B’rith in this climate.
First, we are a nonpartisan organization and we take our nonprofit status very seriously. When it comes to immigrants and refugees we take that very seriously.
We are doing many things about the Syrian situation. We helped set up IsraAid and partner with them. We also helped Syrian refugees at a medical center in Safed get care, get back on their feet and go home.
Because we’ve been involved with [refugees and immigration] from our beginning we can give some history and context to the situation. I like to think this country is facing an immigration situation that is far different than any we’ve faced before. I like to think that what we ought to do is give any administration, no matter the party, the benefit of the doubt that they are trying to do the best they can. Sometimes it’s not pretty.
It’s not just the US. European countries are also having a difficult time. Germany is struggling with 1.2 million refugees, many of whom don’t want to assimilate. Britain is facing this too.
Most Americans want us to manage this situation in as humanitarian a way as possible and we are working to do that.
Talk about the challenges B’nai B’rith is facing in its global advocacy work as politicians and ordinary citizens, both here and abroad, are embracing xenophobia and anti-Semitism while also rejecting Zionism. Do you see anti-Zionism leading to anti-Semitism?
Having just met with members from the United Kingdom, I can tell you this is an important question. Many are asking what will happen in the UK if [Labour leader Jeremy] Corbyn is elected. What will happen in Britain is what happened in France — many Jews will leave.
As far as the US is concerned we have some real challenges ahead of us. There is a great divide among the rabbinates and among congregants about Zionism. Zionism has become a bad word. It’s been politicized and I’m not sure when this happened, [but] Zionism isn’t taught. So many young people don’t even know who David Ben-Gurion was or who Theodor Herzl was. They don’t know anything about the partition of 1948, the wars of 1967 or 1973. It’s very harmful.
I speak to young people often and I find them very passionate. However, they don’t know anything about Zionism, they don’t have the background, the context. All they have is this live in the moment attitude and talking points.
It’s disconcerting and we are speaking to younger audiences on college campuses. Where we really need help, though, is within our congregations. Rabbis can play a vital role.
Human rights and Israel advocacy are another area B’nai B’rith International is involved in. Across the US anti-Semitism is rising among progressives. For example, the Women’s March founders openly support Louis Farrakhan and on college campuses some left-leaning groups have made it clear American Jews who support Israel are not welcome. How does this impact the work you do in attracting young people to join?
It’s very troubling. We have people in B’nai B’rith from [across the] political spectrum. We are centrist. However, we are not doing enough to challenge some of the verbiage used on either side of the aisle. We do have problems when we have people use “occupation” and “apartheid” when Israel is building a wall for security. Having been to Soweto and other places in South Africa during Apartheid I can tell you what an insult this is to millions of Africans who lost their lives in that struggle.
You’ve represented B’nai B’rith before UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council. Both bodies routinely single out Israel, as does the UN General Assembly. Why does B’nai B’rith continue to advocate before these institutions?
When I was doing that work I had a lot of people ask me, “Why do you waste your time?” I used to see it that way, too. Then I came to realize that if we were not there it would be even worse. The revisionist history is just horrific — the idea that Jews don’t have any connection to the land of Israel. This is the newest blood libel.
All we want from them is to reform. All we want from the Human Rights Council is to reform. All we want from UNGA is to reform. UNESCO should be non-political. It’s supposed to only care about science, technology and culture.
It’s been particularly rewarding to visit with some countries in Africa that don’t know much about Israel and are eager to develop economic ties and want to learn more about the country. So it’s very important we maintain a presence there.
Speaking of strengthening ties, President Reuven Rivlin of Israel has talked about the need to strengthen ties between Israel and the Diaspora. How can B’nai B’rith increase the connectivity between the Diaspora and young Israelis?
This was a huge issue during my campaign and I talked about it in my acceptance speech. We need to connect our communities. I am really pushing this because of what’s going on in Europe and what’s going on in Latin America. I think it’s really important to work in a more integrated, collaborative way. Few people do the Diaspora the way we do.
What prospects do you see for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian authority?
There could have been a two state solution in 1948 but the Palestinians squandered that — but you can’t turn back the clock, and it’s clear they never have missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Israel learned to do the most we can with what we have and the Palestinians need to do that to. They need to say “take the best deal we can get,” and go from there.
They need to stop chaining themselves to the BDS movement, to terror and to using education to poison children. They need to promote their economy; they could put a consular office in Jerusalem and quit the missile launching and tunnel building.
To read the original version in the Times of Israel, visit this link.
Op-Ed By CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin In the Jerusalem Post - What I Learned At The Dinner Table: Talking About Antisemitism
Growing up in New Hampshire in the 1950s and 1960s, we received most of our international news from our trusty, burgundy Bakelite GE radio that sat on our kitchen table. Our local radio station was a CBS affiliate, and I ate many a breakfast and dinner hearing broadcasting icons like Lowell Thomas, Charles Collingwood, Dallas Townsend and Alexander Kendrick.
Most mornings, my father would pick up a copy of the New York Herald-Tribune at Donahue’s, a newsstand on Main Street, and in the afternoon, he’d buy the Keene Evening Sentinel, our main source for local news. But it was at the kitchen table, with the radio on most of the day, that we’d discuss the important events of the day.
For Jews in the 1950s, memories of the Holocaust were fresh, already indelibly etched in the psyche not only of those who experienced it, but also those who had the good fortune to be living in the United States. My parents frequently referenced it: my mother would often mention her having received letters from relatives in Lithuania who passionately asked for help in coming to America. No one in our family knew anyone – a politician, someone high up in the federal government, even a journalist – who could move heaven and earth to issue visas to get them out. It always bothered my mother that she was helpless to save them.
So we talked a lot about the Holocaust and what brought it about. My father came to America from Czarist Russia when he was 13, and while he had no first-person stories about pogroms, he would frequently mention them as a point of reference in any discussion about antisemitism. My mother had a copy of John Roy Carlson’s Under Cover in our bookcase, which focused on the German-American Bund and other pro-Nazi organizations that thrived in the United States in the 1930s. She would also mention the pro-fascist, antisemitic radio broadcasts of Detroit’s Father Charles Coughlin, whose rants ruled the airwaves at exactly the same time.
We also talk about the Virginia-based American Nazi Party, led by George Lincoln Rockwell who would lead his arm band-clad “storm troopers” at demonstrations in the Washington, DC area and elsewhere. My mother would cite Rockwell as an example of how antisemitism was still not stamped out, despite the Holocaust, and that he was operating here in America.
We were keenly aware of discrimination against Jews in hiring, public accommodations, and higher education. I heard the word “quotas” at a very early age. Friends and relatives went to certain schools because other universities just wouldn’t admit many Jews. Indeed, you’d have to state your religion on your college application, and paste on a photo as well. Bank hiring? Forget it. Hotels and resorts? Some welcomed Jews as guests; many didn’t. Private clubs were notorious for excluding Jews as members. Jewish actors and actresses had, for years, anglicized or changed their names based on the belief that Jewish-sounding surnames could be a bar to popular success.
It wasn’t that many years before I was sitting in on these discussions at the dinner table that the motion picture Gentleman’s Agreement pulled the curtain on the extent of antisemitism – genteel or otherwise – that existed in post-war America. Gregory Peck’s portrayal of a non-Jewish journalist, posing as someone who was Jewish, testing the restrictive, antisemitic social environment that prevailed, was a monumental breakthrough in mainstreaming popular understanding of an age-old scourge.
A check of the B’nai B’rith archives came up with three examples of this kind of discrimination; they are typical of thousands of other instances of everyday antisemitism that the American Jewish community experienced.
A letter dated March 3, 1947, from the Hotel Winona and Park Hotel in Winona, Minnesota, responded to an inquiry for rooms from Mr. Nathan Scharf. The hotel’s representative wrote that “First, due to restrictions around our lakes, I must know whether you are Jewish or not, as Jewish people are not allowed….”
Another letter, from the Woodland Lodge in Elcho, Wisconsin, dated July 10, 1947, advised Mrs. R. Uslander that “We are returning your check for $5, for we cannot provide for you at the time requested. After seeing your letter we note that you are associated in some manner with Camp Maccabee. Perhaps we should advise you that we do not cater to people of the Jewish (sic) race.”
And this, dated July 29, 1959, from the headmistress of a girl’s school in Charleston, South Carolina to a mother who had submitted an application and entrance fee for her daughter:
“We appreciate your interest in the school but we have found that it is a wise policy not to accept students of religious faiths different from the majority of the girls here….
“While we are a non-sectarian school, our resident girls are all members of Christian churches. Past experience has taught us that the Jewish girls find it difficult to fit into our schedules because of different times of church services and religious holidays.”
These were the very visible barriers that beset an otherwise well-educated, hardworking, patriotic Jewish community. At dinner, or later in the living room, we’d discuss these kinds of stories and met them with a mixture of shrugs and some anger, always accompanied by an expression of hope that things would change for the better.
In fact, they did.
There were many contributing factors, among them Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, which made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race or religion in public accommodation and hiring. Pope John XXIII’s determination to address centuries of antisemitism within the Catholic Church, culminating in 1963’s Nostra Aetate declaration, opened the doors to other advances in interfaith relations. In the process, non-Jews became more accepting, and Jews, more confident.
Into the 1970s, barriers began to fall. In 1974, there were three Jewish members of the United States Senate, one of whom was filling a vacancy, and just 12 Jewish members of the House of Representatives. One Jewish political figure, interviewed in Stephen Isaacs’s Jews and American Politics (1974), said Jews were hesitant oftentimes to run for office, so worked on campaign fund-raising or as media advisors. Fifteen years later, the numbers were eight in the Senate and 23 in the House. And into this century, those numbers grew even larger.
Today, entertainers use their own names, and no one blinks an eye. Yiddishisms have entered the vernacular, and many universities offer Jewish and Holocaust studies programs. Quotas in university admissions are long gone. And corporate suites in businesses that were previously off-limits to Jews have opened, as well.
That’s why the shootings at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue came as such a body blow to our community. The warning signs were definitely there. Even before that horrific day, three separate Jewish community centers had shooting incidents, in Los Angeles, Seattle and Overland Park, Kansas. The Tiki-torch-bearing demonstrators in Charlottesville shouted, “Jews will not replace us.” The Internet is chock full of websites, blogs and comments that trumpet unadulterated hatred of Jews. And the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, which calls Israel an “apartheid state,” and which uses Nazi imagery to describe Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, only thinly veils the antisemitic tenor of its campaign to delegitimize the world’s only Jewish state.
If my parents were here today, there’d be plenty to discuss at the kitchen table. We’d surely talk about the threats and the challenges to our community. The spike in antisemitism in Europe, from the Left and the Right, would be a main topic of discussion. We might, at a certain point of discouragement, even repeat the Passover Haggada admonition that “in every generation they rise against us to destroy us.” But then we’d be grateful for good friends, personal as well as in the broader community – who speak out, as they did after the Pittsburgh shootings, about the dangers posed by the new antisemites. What separates this country from others when antisemitism rises to the surface is the breadth of solidarity that results when it occurs. In the wake of the Tree of Life horror, I heard words of outrage and comfort from classmates, foreign diplomats and others whose first reactive response was to reach out to the Jews they know.
With that, we’d rise from the table, secure in our Jewishness, worried about what might come next after Pittsburgh, pledging to do what we could – letters-to-the-editor, conversations with neighbors, keeping up on the latest reports of antisemitic acts at home and abroad – to meet the challenge when antisemitism “rears its ugly head.”
We certainly have our work cut out for us. We need to re-double our efforts to greatly expand the number of public schools that have Holocaust education programs. We need to confront, head-on, the explosion of hate on the Internet, notwithstanding First Amendment guarantees of free speech; privately-owned companies whose platforms allow this kind of verbiage to proliferate need to police themselves. This is a “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” moment. And we must see the BDS movement for what it is: the next level of global antisemitism.
Looking back, that small kitchen was indeed my classroom, preparing me well for the difficulties that lie ahead.
Read the original version in The Jerusalem Post here.
A number of American Jewish and pro-Israel groups have reacted with concern to Airbnb’s decision to remove listings in West Bank settlements, and one is warning that the home-renting company could be running afoul of US law.
In a letter sent to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky on Wednesday, The Lawfare Project noted that the company’s move “carries a host of negative implications under US federal and state law prohibiting discriminatory commercial conduct, including boycotts, and may expose Airbnb to damaging legal and financial liability under such laws.”
“On the federal side,” the letter — authored by The Lawfare Project’s Chief Operating Officer and Director of Research Benjamin Ryberg — pointed out, “Airbnb’s removal of Israeli listings may run afoul of such statutes as the Export Administration Act of 1979 and regulations promulgated thereunder, the Ribicoff Amendment to the Tax Reform Act of 1976, and the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. On the state side, half of the US states have enacted legislation prohibiting state contracting with or investment in entities that participate in the economic boycott of Israel, and similar legislation is currently pending in a number of other states. States including New York and California also have long-existing legislation that outlaws discriminatory business conduct based on the religion, national origin, or citizenship of the target and enables entities to sue the perpetrator(s) of such discrimination.”
“With the enactment and vigorous enforcement of these laws, the United States has demonstrated its staunch commitment to harshly penalizing and eliminating commercial discrimination against allied nations and their business concerns,” the letter continued.
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt also sent a letter to Chesky, in which he wrote that, with Airbnb’s decision, “the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and its supporters will be further emboldened and view it as a victory for their hateful campaign against Israel.”
“Also, as best as we can tell,” Greenblatt went on to say, “Airbnb has not de-listed rentals in any other disputed areas. Your website currently lists properties in Northern Cyprus, Tibet, the Western Saharan region, and other territories where people have been displaced. Yet only Israeli settlements are being singled out for de-listing by Airbnb, a decision which many see as a double standard set by your company. Make no mistake: double standards when it comes to Israel cause us great concern.”
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CoP) Chairman Arthur Stark and Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein urged Chesky to meet with US Jewish leaders to discuss the matter.
“Airbnb took a political decision that singles out Israelis and one ‘disputed’ territory,” they stated. “The West Bank involves complex issues that cannot be addressed with simplistic and, in this case, biased measures.”
“The BDS movement at its core is anti-Semitic as has been amply demonstrated,” Stark and Hoenlein added. “After recent events, especially following the attack of the synagogue in Pittsburgh, we will not, and cannot remain silent. When Jews here or anywhere are singled out, threatened, discriminated against, or put in jeopardy of any kind, we must, and will respond.”
“We know that Airbnb has in the past expressed opposition to discrimination and conduct that would support bigotry. We hope that this will be the case now. We ask Mr. Chesky to act promptly to rescind the decision and make clear that the company rejects BDS in all its manifestations,” they concluded.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) and Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) called for a boycott of Airbnb.
“This is double standard anti-Semitism pure and simple,” Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper — the SWC’s dean and associate dean — stated. “Nowhere else on the planet has Airbnb stopped making its service available in disputed territories, except Judea and Samaria.
“To be clear, no Israeli leader, left, right, or center, would ever return to the indefensible ‘Auschwitz borders,’ a term coined by the founder of Israel’s peace movement, the late Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban,” they continued. “We take note that Airbnb has no problem doing business in the territory of the Palestinian Authority, which names schools and shopping centers in honor of mass murderers who have killed innocent civilians and have a ‘pay to slay’ policy when it comes to killing Jews.”
“We don’t expect Airbnb to be geopolitical experts, but today’s draconian and unjust move, which only empowers extremists and terrorists, merits only one response — taking our community’s business elsewhere,” Hier and Cooper concluded.
The ZOA implored “all decent people to stop using Airbnb’s services until Airbnb ends this Jew-hating, anti-Semitic policy.”
“Let’s stand up for our brothers and sisters in the Jewish homeland as long as Airbnb continues to hold up a virtual ‘no Jews allowed’ sign!” the ZOA declared.
B’nai B’rith International tweeted, “Airbnb’s removal of its rental listings in the West Bank is a blatantly discriminatory decision that represents yet another instance of the double standard applied by the rest of the world to Israel. Airbnb should reverse this unfair policy immediately.”
World Jewish Congress-Israel Chair Gad Ariely said, “World Jewish Congress-Israel is troubled by the decision of Airbnb to boycott properties situated in Jewish communities in Israel. Airbnb’s cooperation with the BDS movement plays into the hands of those with a sinister agenda.”
“It is especially unconscionable given the fact that Airbnb lists properties in other disputed territories, and even countries in which human rights are regularly trampled upon,” he added.
The StandWithUs education group authored a petition calling on Airbnb to reverse its “discriminatory decision.”
Read the original version at The Algemeiner here.
Director of Latin American Affairs Eduardo Kohn Comments on Roger Waters' Anti-Semitism to Telemundo
B'nai B'rith International's Director of Latin American Affairs Eduardo Kohn called out musician Roger Waters for demonizing Israel and for spreading blatantly anti-Semitic messaging during his concerts. Watch his interview with Telemundo about Waters in Spanish below. For the original story, click this link.
In the aftermath of the deadliest attack in American Jewish history, a measure calling on New York University to separate its interests from firms such as Lockheed Martin, General Electric and Caterpillar Inc., which do business with Israel, was introduced on Thursday in the school’s student government.
“Again a few radical students can set the agenda and because of the widespread indifference to, or dismissal of such initiatives can appear to represent the majority,” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JNS.
Subscribe to The JNS Daily Syndicate by email and never miss our top stories“Especially after recent events, we must be vigilant and immediately respond and take appropriate actions,” continued Hoenlein. “We must back the students that stand up against these organized attacks, another in the many thinly veiled anti-Semitic assaults under the guise of BDS.”
Only students with NYU IDs will be allowed to attend the meeting. To protect student privacy, the anonymous final vote will be held on Dec. 6.
“The secret ballot is not just proof of the student government’s lack of transparency and accountability. It shows its members aren’t genuine human-rights activists,” Hali Haber, CAMERA’s Director of Campus Programming, told JNS.
“Do you think Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. fought in secret? When you have morality on your side, you fight for it openly,” said Haber. “Until members of the assembly are willing to attach their own names to the resolution, nobody else should take their vote seriously either.”
“The threat of violence implicit in BDS campaigns such as the one at NYU is the very reason why student senators do not feel safe in openly expressing themselves about this issue, and why the NYU vote must be conducted by secret ballot,” Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the AMCHA Initiative, told JNS. “That fact alone speaks volumes about the hostility and violence that many Jewish and Zionist students face when trying to express their identity or support for Israel at NYU or on many other college campuses.”
An NYU student stealing an Israeli flag at a pro-Israeli student event called “Rave in the Park” on April 27, 2018. The student was soon arrested. Credit: Screenshot/YouTube.
Titled the “Resolution on the Human Rights of Palestinians,” the BDS resolution has the backing of 54 student groups, and was introduced by Rose Asaf, Bayan Abubakr and Leen Dweik. It calls on businesses that are “in the violation of Palestinian human rights and human rights globally.” The measure also has the backing of 34 faculty members.
The resolution claims that BDS is an “an inclusive, anti-racist, and non-violent set of tools to pursue the Palestinian human-rights movement” that opposes all kinds of discrimination, “including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”
“As a Palestinian, this resolution is deeply personal to me,” Dweik told NYU Local. “As an NYU student, it hurts and shocks me that the university would continue to invest in companies that directly contribute to the human-rights violations of my family and my people.”
“As an American-Israeli Jew, I reject the categorization of BDS as anti-Semitic,” Asaf told JNS in October. “BDS is a set of nonviolent tactics aimed to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law and respect the dignity of the Palestinian people.
“Criticizing a nation-state and promoting human rights is not in any way anti-Semitic,” she continued. “As someone who lives with the trauma of generational anti-Semitism, I know this well. I am in solidarity with Palestinians not in spite of my Judaism, but because of it.”
Singling out one country only: Israel
Jewish and pro-Israel groups, such as the Zionist Organization of America and the Endowment for Middle East Truth, denounced the resolution and its timing.
“This divestment resolution claims to be inclusive, anti-racist, and non-discriminatory, when on its face, it’s the exact opposite,” Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, told JNS. “The resolution singles out companies simply because they do business with one country only: the Jewish State of Israel.”
“The fact that the resolution will be voted on by secret ballot is outrageous. Those voting are in the student government,” continued Tuchman. “They’re accountable to the students they represent and their actions should be completely transparent. These student government representatives should be proud of the votes they cast, not concealing them.”
Jennifer Dekel, EMET’s director of research and communications, told JNS: “NYU’s divestment resolution is the latest example of efforts by radical anti-Israel groups to alienate and silence Jewish students, and other students supporting Israel, on campus.”
“Groups leading the effort, such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, have a track record of creating a hostile environment for Jewish students and should be put on notice by the university that their actions may be in violation of Title VI of The Civil Rights Act,” added Dekel.
Jewish Voice for Peace has been accused of using anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery as part of its “Deadly Exchange” activities that seek to “end police exchange programs between the U.S. and Israel.”
“This is yet another example of totally ill-informed individuals engaging in the practice of delegitimizing Israel and those that do business with it,” Dan Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith International CEO, told JNS. “Because of the motive behind it, the university should unequivocally reject it.”
Andrea Levin, president and executive director of CAMERA, said her organization is “disheartened” by the BDS resolution from Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, both groups that have a history of anti-Semitism.
“Since the resolution is being introduced by organizations with a history of anti-Semitism, there can be no doubt that it aims to intimidate the vibrant community of Jewish students at NYU. CAMERA on Campus maintains the unshakable belief that the BDS movement, with its single-minded focus on the Jewish state, works exclusively to worsen conditions needed for dialogue, coexistence, and peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” she previously told JNS.
“We’ve heard from many NYU students about how the student government lacks transparency and doesn’t fairly represent their constituents,” Rena Nasar, StandWithUs tri-state campus director, told JNS. “It seems the problem is only getting worse as a result of this campaign of hate that has been launched by JVP and SJP on campus.”
Although NYU president Andrew Hamilton denounced BDS in April, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, StandWithUs and Alums for Campus Fairness wrote a letter four months later to Hamilton, asking his administration to address a discriminatory joint statement issued in April by 53 NYU student groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace, which declared that the student organizations would boycott two pro-Israel student groups on campus: Realize Israel and TorchPAC.
While the August letter acknowledges that although NYU has condemned the BDS movement, the university has yet to adequately denounce the discriminatory statement and address how the vitriol has affected the overall student-faculty community, according to a joint statement by the three organizations.
Out of 51,123 undergraduate and graduate students, there are 6,000 undergraduate and graduate Jewish students at NYU, or 11.7 percent of the student population, according to Hillel International.
To read the original story on JNS.org, visit this link.
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